The Dovekie and I: A year of Rookie Sailing in a Dovekie Sailboat

BY Mike Mangus - Columbus, Mississippi - USA

The Dovekie is launched and slipped in a Port Isabel, Texas dock.  It is 95 degrees this June 2016 day and the bright sun beats mercilessly down upon me as I load the unique 21’ boat.  The Dovekie’s huge open design easily absorbs the gear.  With everything stowed, the dodger and covers go on and I step back to look over the new-to-me boat in case something was missed.  Everything looks good though I wish there was time to paint it.  Ah well.  With only three weeks after buying and hauling it from Pennsylvania to get the Dovekie ready for tomorrow’s Texas 200 start, a paint job was at the bottom of the stuff needing done.

So looking forward to sailing the Dovekie tomorrow!

It’s been just over a year since purchasing a Dovekie … a year of discovery in more ways than one!  Lend me some of your time to put out some thoughts and musings on that year.  Some of these ramblings will draw a knowing nod from long time Dovekie sailors while first time owners may find some nuggets of information they may use.

May 2016 I needed a sailboat.  I broke my small homebuilt trimaran yet again four weeks before the June Texas 200 and wanted a reliable sailboat for the weeklong sailing trip.  Browsing classified ads found a Dovekie.  In the past I have always admired the lines of the boat but found them to be somewhat pricy.  This one wasn’t too bad so I quickly contacted the owner and arranged the purchase.  A week later found myself on an 1800 mile round trip to Pennsylvania and back to Mississippi with my new find in tow.

“Egret” was a 1981 Dovekie, hull #43, in fair condition though with some issues.  I cataloged things needing fixing, fixed the major items like rot in the mast, and added a pair of 40w solar panels along with a simple electrical system.  To make the boat officially mine, I appeased the sea spirits before changing the boat’s name to “Mulsae”.

Musing #1:  Although the Dovekie Manual recommends no mods to the boat within the first year of owning it, I felt comfortable enough to add the electrical solar system.  Without sailing it though, I had no idea what else probably needed done.

With the Dovekie swaying wildly at anchor in the Laguna Madre’s shallow waters less than 10 miles from Port Isabel, I struggle to put in a reef while the windblown sail and boom swept from side to side.  The motion yanks me back and forth across the cockpit while I stubbornly hang on to the sail and boom trying to hook in the first reef’s clew.  After 20 minutes of struggle the reef is in and the boat is again under way northward.  What a literal pain!  My body hurts from the banging around.

I really hope a second reef isn’t needed today …

The first sail in this new-to-me sailboat was on the second Monday of June, the official first day of the 2016 Texas 200.  2016 was a tough year for the event with 20+ mph winds daily that stressed boats and crews alike.  Add on top of that was learning how to sail a different sailboat.  The three days of stressful sailing and constant worry about the boat’s unfamiliar sailing characteristics led me to drop out early after daily migraines.  Coming from ballasted monohulls and stable multihulls, the unballasted Dovekie’s heeling in high winds and not-so-easy single-handing greatly concerned me.  By the end of the week, I was less than thrilled with the boat to the point that I may have sold it for the right offer.

Musing #2:  First time sailing of any sailboat should probably be done in mild conditions within safer controlled waters.  A rough first sailing experience leads to disappointment and possibly a new boat.

The November overcast sky makes the blustery 12 knot wind filling the Dovekie’s tanbark sail feel cooler than usual in the 70+ degree temperatures here on Pensacola Bay, Florida.  The close-hauled boat rises and falls on the saltwater waves but makes good time to windward.  Although the heeling doesn’t feel as uncomfortable as the Texas trip 5 months ago, I’m still leery.  The port leeboard taps sandy bottom, letting me know it is time to tack back across the sound.  First, drop the starboard leeboard then push the tiller to the right side corner, give the bow board uphaul a tug to raise it, wait wait wait for the Dovekie to finish coming through the wind, let go of uphaul to drop the board and stop the bow drift, then finish up by raising the port leeboard.  The tack goes off perfectly step by step …

Over the summer after the Texas trip, I worked to fixed all of the leftover small issues and make the boat easier to single-hand.  By the time November’s Veterans Day rolled around, I was ready for another sailing trip.  A few friends decided to sail the Pensacola Bay area, camp out, and watch the nearby Navy base’s fireworks show.  The three day trip in 8 – 15 mph winds were perfect to get used to the Dovekie’s handling and sailing characteristics.  Working upwind with full sail in 13 – 15 mph winds on the last day went a long way to helping me get more comfortable with the boat.

Musing #3:  Only time spent sailing in a boat will help a captain gain confidence sailing it.

Over the winter and into the spring of 2017 saw more work on the now 36 year old boat.  The original wooden mast, compromised by dry rot, was replaced with a used aluminum mast modified from a Coronado 15.  The original wooden boom was replaced by a homebuilt aluminum tubing boom complete with a nifty jiffy reefing system to replace the cumbersome manual hook style reefing.  Most of the rope was replaced with new high-quality rope.

 Lake Hartwell’s small white-capped waves try valiantly to keep up with the Dovekie speedily sailing on a downwind gybe.  This is the fastest we’ve gone in the boat even with a single reef in.  The water boils off the double-ender stern as I point the Dovekie toward a cove entrance where the other messabout participants have stopped for lunch.  A sudden gust blows my hat off … a lucky grab keeps it onboard but almost results in an unintentional gybe.  Getting the boat back under control (and hat firmly tucked away), I point it at the shore and beach it between the other boats already there.  Wow, what a sail that was!  Fun!

The first 2017 spring sail was a messabout on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell.  Conditions ranged from very light winds to white capped waves.  All throughout the three days of sailing the Dovekie performed comfortably well and showed surprising speed.  For the first time, the Dovekie took on crew for a sail who was impressed with the boat.  Though he did call the Dovekie’s slow tacking “stately”.  Heh.

The evenings were spent anchored off shore tucked in a cove.  The still cool evenings made for good sleeping within the Dovekie’s unparalleled porch style cockpit tent and dodger.  With unprecedented space within the open boat design uncluttered by shelves, bulkheads, etc, the Dovekie is perhaps the best sail and camp boat ever made.

Musing #4:  Sailing is more enjoyable without worrying about how the sailboat sails!

Before the first big sailing trip of the year, a custom jib and roller furler was designed, made, and installed on the Dovekie in spite of the boat not being designed for it.  Additionally, the original trailer’s axle was moved backwards 18” to combat trailer sway at speeds above 60 mph.  Finally a new 3.5 hp outboard was installed on the motor mount.

By sunshine soaked noon the southeast wind is really blowing up around 15 – 17 knots, pushing a handful of boats downwind like scudding leaves through Pensacola Bay.  The Dovekie with full wind filled sail is outrunning the saltwater waves as we sail over very shallow yet smoothish windward shore water.  I really should put a reef in but the boat is easily handling the downwind run.  This is way more fun than yesterday’s close-hauled wave bashing in Pensacola Bay!

We make the turn around the point into Perdido Bay … and is immediately blasted by a beam wind gusting over 20 knots.  I grit it out for 15 minutes in the now way over canvassed Dovekie before a gust nearly knocks the boat over.  Reefing time!  Following the manual to set the boat into a stable heaving too, I reef the sail in less than 5 minutes … that new quick reef system is the bomb!  20 minutes later we sail into a shallow cove to camp for the night.

What a sail!  43 miles in 7 hours, 20 minutes … wow! 

Nearly one year after buying the boat in May, we embarked on the annual Florida 120 cruise among the Perdido and Pensacola Bay areas.  The sailing was fantastic though we did have a hard Friday morning tacking upwind into 15’ish mph wind and a short Saturday afternoon on a rough beam reach in 20+ mph wind.  It was also the first practical test of reefing on the water with the new jiffy reef system which performed nearly perfectly.  The best sailing day saw a handful of boats racing downwind in sunny warm yet windy conditions.  The new jib and boat came through with flying colors in various situations calling for an added boost in sail area.

The rougher conditions and higher waves tested me like no other time previously.  At first I worried but the Dovekie handled it with no problems and I relaxed.  The drive home after the trip was spent remembering the great sailing versus dwelling on things that could have went bad.

Musing #5:  As confidence in the boat grows, so does the captain’s capabilities.  Also, maintenance seems never ending, even self-inflicted jobs like modifications.  Heh.

The three weeks before the big summer trip in Texas was spent doing more mods such as changing the leeboard controls from levers to uphaul/downhaul ropes and waterproofing the not-so-waterproof bimini and dodger.  Time was also spent pouring over charts and setting up the routes and alternate routes in the GPS to help with navigation up the Texas coast.

 The 18 knot beam wind is verging on too much for the two Mayflys’ single-reefed sails, but the double-reefed Dovekie is loving it!  Even with the extra reef, the Dovekie keeps up as we race eastward in bright sun soaked heat towards the intercostal islands.  The boat feels solidly stable in the gusts as it bounces through the smallish 1’ – 3’ waves.  Suddenly, the leeboard and rudder kicks up as we sail into 18” deep water a half mile from shore.  The Mayflys decide to anchor for a bit.  I drop the Dovekie’s bow centerboard as an impromptu anchor and wade over to see what is happening.  After conferencing our course and installing another reef, we raise anchors (bow centerboard for me) and take off on a downwind gybe.  The third reef tames the Dovekie into a no-stress lazy sail in 18” of water … so lazy that I bungee lash the tiller and stand in the cockpit to watch the occasional oyster encrusted rock glide by while the water pressure from the Dovekie’s hull stirs up the bottom sand off the stern …

Back a year later for the weeklong Texas 200 trip saw an absolutely wonderful time.  With full confidence in the Dovekie’s sailing characteristics, we enjoyed sailing the 200 miles over five days exploring new places and routes only accessible by ultra-shoal draft boats like the Dovekie.  Skimming downwind for miles in 12” – 18” water over reefs, oysters, sand and mud is especially exhilarating knowing that the boat is more than capable to handle whatever conditions Mother Nature can throw at us.

Musing #6:  After contemplating selling the boat a year ago, I wouldn’t trade or sell “Mulsae” today.  It took time to get used to it, but now I’m very comfortable with how it sails.  Toss in the extraordinary ultra-shoal capabilities and immense camping ability, the boat fits exactly the type of sailing I enjoy the most!

So what is in the future?  More sailing of course!  Though first the boat needs a few more modifications …



    • Surprisingly for an utterly flat bottomed boat, it doesn’t pound much at all. The worse pounding was actually under power instead of sail going against wind and waves in Pensacola Florida in early 2017. That time it would drop and pound hard enough to rattle the rigging. Heh.

      Under sail, it actually rarely pounds going to windward. I suspect due to the boat heeling under sail that turns the rounded chine down into the waves and angles the bottom up. Even so, it will occasionally pound but it tends to be pretty mild, aka not rig rattling. 🙂

  1. Beautiful boat and looks capable too, so much space. The designer would have liked your mods I think. It would be perfect for California’s Delta waters in Summer.

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